Defeating the Guilt Cycle

You know you’ve done it.

You’ve arrived at home after a hard day’s work, sometimes to screaming kids, or a tired husband, or just a quiet room with a waiting dog or cat, or a mess that needs cleaning up, and a dinner that needs making and laundry that needs doing and you’ve said to yourself, ‘I can’t write tonight. There’s too much to do.’ And you’ve felt guilty as you pass by your computer and avert your eyes. But not as guilty as you would have felt if you’d sat down to write.

Writers do this to themselves all the time, especially the ones that have yet to sell a story or a novel. We let the rest of the world convince us that writing is wasting time, that we need to get the chores done, or catch that new episode of ‘Game of Thrones’, or head out to the mall. If we’re not making money from it, the thinking goes, how do we justify abandoning our family and friends every day? After all, only about 200 people actually make a living at this, right?

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay attention to your marriage, or your kids, or your house. I’m just saying that a lot of the time, it can actually fit into your day without you having to grow extra arms and legs. What makes it not fit, most of the time, is the guilt trip we take ourselves on. We talk ourselves out of doing what makes us happy, what makes us complete, so we can help others be happy and complete. As if we don’t matter. As if what we do doesn’t matter.

Well, even if you never make a dime off your writing, it matters. You matter. You’re putting a little bit of magic into the world, every day, and you shouldn’t let being busy, or anxious, or frustrated, or overwhelmed keep you from finding a little bit of peace in your art. ‘Cause most of us do this to get all these darn stories out of our head, and if we don’t let them out, we’ll probably explode from the pressure.
(And yes, you have my permission to use that as a legitimate excuse the next time your significant other raises the eyebrow at you while you write in a pile of dirty laundry. It’s either happy writing you, or splattered all over the walls you. Take it or leave it.)

Okay. Maybe you won’t exactly explode. But that doesn’t negate the fact that you shouldn’t ever feel guilty about putting yourself first, just for a little while.

So the next time you are about to make an excuse to yourself so you can avoid the guilt of actually writing–
(Which of course leads to the guilt the next day of knowing you haven’t written and there’s been no forward motion—which makes you feel worthless and like you don’t know what you’re doing, and like maybe it isn’t even worth it, and you should just forget about the whole thing and focus on getting a good job that can keep you in ham and eggs…you see what’s happening here? Yeah, I know. I’ve been there, trust me.)

–try this trick I just taught myself. Stop thinking, walk yourself over to your preferred writing instrument—laptop, typewriter, pen, whatever—sit down and write three lines. Just let yourself do three lines. If you have more, go for it. If not, stop. And if you find yourself steaming along, really getting into it and you know exactly what’s coming next…stop. Keep that bit of inspiration for tomorrow and your next three lines.

Do this, every day, whenever you have a few minutes (trust me, it takes me about 5 minutes to catch up where I am and then dash that out), no exceptions. You are allowed to schedule a day or two where you don’t write, if you like, but try to write at least 6 days a week. Do not worry if it’s not your best work. That’s what editing is for. You can go back and fix any mistakes, or erase the whole thing the next day because it doesn’t work for you anymore. The important thing is to add three new lines, every day. Try this for two weeks at least. At the end of the period, I guarantee not only will you have made forward motion, you will have cured any writer’s block that may have reared its ugly head.

(Most likely it was never writer’s block, just inertia breeding on itself because you were trapped in the guilt cycle.)

I tried this for Lent after someone suggested to me that I should try to do something positive, as well as give up something for the season. I gave myself no off days and no excuses and stifled every feeling of guilt by saying to myself ‘come on, it’s just five minutes to half an hour—you spend more time in the bathroom’. Now, several thousand words later, I can attest that it works. Sure, some people write several thousand words in a couple of hours (me included). However, this is not about being the most prolific writer ever. This is about putting one foot in front of the other, and not feeling guilty about it.

So end the cycle. I think you’ll be surprised what you can fit in if you opt out of the guilt and opt into doing the thing that you love.

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